Monthly Archives: March 2014

Taco Tour: Chicago March Edition

This past weekend I went to Chicago with a colleague and some students, hosted by the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture. We did many things, some of which I enjoyed, and some of which the students enjoyed, and some of which my colleague enjoyed, so I think overall it was a good weekend. I tried Puerto Rican food, which was a lot like Nicaraguan food with its emphasis on plantains, rice and beans. We also ate so much delicious Mexican food in Little Village and Pilsen. Little Village is a fairly ungentrified primarily Mexican-American neighbourhood. Pilsen is a bit too hipster for my liking. And I like all the hipster things – skinny jeans, macs, the glasses. Except I don’t like people who are entitled and unaware of their privilege.  On the afternoon slated for the taco tour, the students all looked so tired that we did not all go on the taco tour.

My colleague, a student, and a friend from Bluffton all went to a few taquerías. Well worth it. Some of them are repeats from the January edition. We began at Carnitas don Pedro (sooooooo delicious. everyone go there on Saturday rather than Sunday), continued along 18th street to Birrería Reyes de Ocotlán (where I had my conversion moment to tacos, well before I had ever been to Mexico). The only strange thing was that they gave us lemons instead of limes. I thought it was because they saw a group of people who were muy gueros (white), but then I learned that there is some kind of lime shortage to accompany the avocado shortage.

the scales fell from my eyes

Reyes de Ocotlán

We also stopped off at a santería shop (because you never know when you will need another candle to pray to the Virgen de Guadalupe, San Judas, or extra-official saints) and finished with pupusas, because the student wanted to try them. Then friend and I continued on for some quesadillas sincronizadas. This was after a lunch of chilaquiles, aka tacos with a fork, and tacos the day before in Avondale at el Cid. Overall: I think it is possible more delicious tacos could have been found in Little Village, or in Avondale, but this was fairly amazing. I would repeat. ¿Quién se anima para LASA?


How to Make a Taco Tour T-Shirt

1. The Dean visits your class and you end with “let’s make t-shirts for our trip to Chicago.” All students seem on board, and not just because they are on their best behaviour. Take this as “all signs point to yes.”

2. Do research. Learn that t-shirts ordered online cost too much for a small group.

3. Consider making one’s own.

4. Pray that Meijer will have T-shirt transfer paper in its craft supply department. It doesn’t.

5. Realize this will involve shopping at Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart.

6. Unsure which is worse, pick Hobby Lobby.

7. Make design. Make sure your students know that the lettuce-like object in the taco is actually cilantro. Because even though cilantro is the devil’s food, it belongs on tacos in a way lettuce does not.

8. Realize need inkjet printer, which you do not have.

9. Go to your colleague’s house and print them.

10. Iron them on during class while talking about trip to Chicago.

11. One of your students’ transfer papers doesn’t stick. Watch her scrape it off like she’s trying to win a lottery ticket. Feel bad.

12. Other students seem really excited, and want to add other images for future trips and activities.

13. Success! Image



Spanish in rural Ohio

I have taken up going to area high schools. Recently, I went to one of my students’ high schools, where we both gave brief presentations. Two things struck me. The first, that the student was using the same methods I use in class, including the ways I gesture, the ways I repeat things and my enthusiasm. Truly bizarre. Almost as odd as watching a videotape of myself teach. The second, was that the teacher of this class seemed to never have spoken to her students about latino people in the US and focussed her interests exclusively on Spain. My student talked about the numbers of Spanish-speaking people in the US and the ways that speaking Spanish could help students get a job, and this seemed like completely new information for them. I think this is a great loss – not because studying Spain’s literature and culture is a problem – but because it means that so many people are cut off from the richness of their own country. And although tacos, chilaquiles and t-shirts are a good gateway, they are really only the beginning.


Since I live in the rural midwest, I have become a flor de asfalto (flower of asphalt) in my car, rather than on my bike or on public transit. In spite of my moral and environmental opposition to car ownership, I think my life would be terrible without it. I can bike up to 2.5 miles/4 km for groceries, but I cannot bike up to 20 mi/too many km. Nor am I interested in buying the groceries available in Bluffton. Or doing all my shopping at the Et Cetera Shop.

Living in rural Ohio also comes with the unfortunate side effect of having only terrible talk radio (right wing and/or right wing Christian) available. If I drive in the right direction, I can get a local NPR station, but it doesn’t even broadcast all the time. So, I must podcast. Or listen to cumbias. Today I will share my list of favourite podcasts. The cumbias can be found on any CD you buy on the Mexico City subway (10 pesos de cuesta, 10 pesos te vale).

1. NPR podcasts: Wait wait don’t tell me. the most entertaining way to get news. It is also probably the only time I have voluntarily listened to Republicans lately. I am sad that Carl Kassell is retiring. Very sad.

Planet Money. A story-based way to learn about economics.

This American Life. Ira Glass. Enough said.

The Moth and Snap Judgment are great story collection podcasts.

2. CBC podcasts:

Vinyl Café is Canada’s superior answer to the Prairie Home Companion. And I’m not just saying that because I’m homesick.

Tapestry: Mary Hines always interviews fascinating people in this show about spirituality.

I could ignore the fact that Jian Gomeshi is reputed to hit on 18 year olds, I could listen to Q. But, I can’t. Q also brings me back to when I studied for comps and heard the morning and evening broadcast (of the same show).

3. Feminist podcasts and/or podcasts by women:

Stuff Mom Never Told You: I have learned about convulsing cheerleaders, racist (white) women suffragists, and Mardi Gras.

Slumber party with Alie and Georgia: pretty much exactly what it sounds like

Feminist Mormon Housewives. Another excellent discussion of religion from people who are skeptical of or angry with their own. Sometimes it gets a bit too into  Mormon specifics for outsider interests, but at other times the discussion of the cultural aspects of religion is so much like my own experience it’s eery. Guess there’s a reason people confuse Mennonites and Mormons.

4. Podcasts I am lukewarm about

Radiolab. Sometimes it’s too much work to not get hit by a truck, shake my fist at offensive billboards and learn at the same time and sometimes Radiolab hits the nail on the head.

Sawbones is about medical history. I’m a newer listener to this show, and think it will become a regular.

Canadaland. Investigative journalism that critiques my beloved CBC. It should be obvious why I’m lukewarm.

Head Injury Update

I think it is safe to say that every time I come back to Bluffton from somewhere else, I want to write. On my most recent trip this managed to work its way into academic writing, but El Paso makes it into my blog. And today, rather than tacos, I would like to talk about my head injury. On my second day of work, I fell down some stairs when I was going from my office to drop off some paperwork and head to class.

I mentioned the injury obliquely in facebook posts, because, really, who needs to know every detail about my brain. And let me tell you, I learned so many details about the brain. So today is the day that I will share some with you. I learned, for example, that the area where I hit my head on the stairs at work is the area that controls language. I learned that my brain moved around in my skull and that’s why it hurt on the front of my skull too. I learned that my skull fractured, which was painful as any and all swear words you can mash together, actually protected my brain. I learned that the second language is stored elsewhere in the brain, so my ability to speak Spanish never would have been affected.

I learned that it takes a year or two to recover from a head injury, although family, friends and colleagues assure me that I appear normal as ever. I do get more tired, am much more disorganized than I have ever been in my life and continue to get headaches. Unfortunately, the absent-minded professor trope  seems to be incarnated only as a man. An absent minded woman is an airhead. And a woman with a headache is just a terrible stereotype.

I learned that it would be impossible to recover from a head injury alone. I don’t understand how it would have been possible to complete my activities of daily living, or have heart-to-hearts with my insurance provider, Ohio BWC, if people hadn’t been cleaning my house, feeding me, or making sure  I was fine. To be fair, I had so many drugs I might not have noticed right away if they hadn’t…

Since it is now a bit more than 6 months since the head injury, I am mostly ok. I use it as a convenient excuse to get out of events that were exhausting before, and are unbearable now (meetings), and as a legitimate excuse for writing much. more. slowly. I refuse to believe that this was foreordained so I could see the quality of the people I work with and a strange kind of empathy for my football playing students. Moral of the story: never get a head injury, because it takes a long time to heal. But, if you have to have one, make sure it happens in Bluffton.

Taco tour: Meta edition

I have now received a certain measure of fame because of my interest in tacos. I wonder, if I had devoted the time and energy to writing about tacos to writing about mid-twentieth century Mexican literature, would I be as well known for that? Or is the escape to the taco tour an essential part of writing about Mexican literature for this guera? I also wonder if my subsequent research project should be about tacos rather than about Mennonites represented in Mexican literature and culture, or how I could bring tacos into that project. Queso menonita [Mennonite cheese, like a mild cheddar or mozzarella] would be a good point of contact.

These thoughts about writing and tacos and Mennonites bring me to something I have just begun to realize. I instinctively want to give every presentation and write every essay in the style of a Mennonite sermon (the right kind of Mennonite sermon, naturally). It begins with an anecdote, talks about other people’s opinions, and then gets into a close reading of the text. And always room for laughter. (I am the right kind of Mennonite, naturally).

Part of me wishes I had more beliefs than doubts, because then I could employ this format when speaking in a church context. The other part of me is more annoyed than wistful, because only in an alternative reality would the church be a place that would invite regular honest discussions about doubts from the pulpit, and only in an alternative reality would it regularly seek the contributions of women in areas that do not involve looking after children or preparing and serving large quantities of food. I think a sermon about tacos would bridge the gap.